Forgiveness is so much more than saying sorry or ‘getting over it’. True forgiveness is difficult and hard to achieve. We simplify forgiveness with such phrases as ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘get over yourself’ or ‘it’s all in the past’, but truth is it’s not so easy to forgive. We bear grudges against people, feel hate for people, are angry with our parents for childhood wrongs, feel bitter towards friends who have hurt us. None of these are wrong or bad, but they can become unhealthy if we hold onto our hate, anger and bitterness. It can become like a festering sore.
Forgiveness is not possible without understanding. Recognising the elements and aspects of the situation about which you feel anger, hate and resentment is more important than the forgiveness itself. By working through some of these bits and pieces, it becomes easier to forgive, easier to forget even; however, forgiveness without learning and growing is not worth much. ‘Forgiving’ your boyfriend for beating you may be okay the first time, but doing so time and time again implies that it’s not true forgiveness as you have not learned that he will do it again. It is truly through our own deep-seated growth that we can forgive and learn the fruits of our compassion.
Should all wrongs be forgiven? Should they be forgiven face-to-face? That’s hard to judge. But lack of forgiveness does hold us back. It retards our own growth. It does not always have to be face-to-face, it can be in your own mind. It can be about things of which the other person knows nothing. Sometimes, we bear grievances which are in our minds because of our own issues and are not derived from intentional harm on the part of someone else. In part, forgiveness is about self-understanding and separating out ‘what is my stuff?’ from ‘what is your stuff?’ In arguments with our partners and friends, we should ask ‘what is mine to bear in this?’, ‘do I have blame in this?’, ‘am I being a victim?’.
That said, long-standing issues arising out of such things aschildhood abuse, neglect in childhood, and divorce and separation are better served through therapeutic intervention, whether individual therapy, group therapy or support groups. The issue of forgiveness in these situations is more complex and difficult and marks the achievement of a goal in a process. It would be true to say that forgiveness, generally, is not an act, it’s a process and one that can only be achieved by dealing with the issues at hand, not pretending all is okay.